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Lawyer calls Worcester diocese settlement offer too low

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By David Abel, Globe Staff
October 20, 2004

The Diocese of Worcester, MA has offered ''insulting" settlements to several men who they were molested by priests in parishes there, a lawyer representing 10 of about 25 of the diocese's alleged victims said yesterday.

The attorney, Carmen L. Durso, said the diocese offered $3,000 to one of his clients, a man in his 40s allegedly molested in the 1970s. The diocese offered two of his other clients, brothers allegedly abused while serving as altar boys in the 1980s, $7,500 each, Durso said.

''These offers are unreasonable, insulting, and unchristian," Durso said. ''The offers are so low -- they're 10 to 20 percent of what other places have offered -- they devalue the lives of the people abused."

A diocese official would not comment on the amount of church settlement offers, but he acknowledged they're lower than those offered to victims of clergy abuse in Boston and elsewhere. Last year, the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay $85 million to settle 541 sexual-abuse claims.

The reason the offers are lower, Diocese Chancellor Thomas Sullivan said, is because the church is claiming ''charitable immunity," and therefore, by law, does not have to pay victims more than $20,000.

''These offers are certainly lower," said Sullivan, noting the Supreme Judicial Court ruling this year against plaintiffs seeking to outlaw state caps on the legal liability of charitable institutions. ''All future litigation, not just in clergy sexual abuse, will be far less because of the charitable immunity caps."

The diocese also has kept its offers low, he said, because officials contend many of the cases lack merit. ''Some of the cases have very weak merits," Sullivan said. ''You do more for victims of egregious claims than those without as much merit."

At a news conference yesterday, Durso also called on Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus to meet with the alleged victims and their attorneys.

But Sullivan said the bishop would not meet with them until after the litigation is resolved. ''It's not going to happen," he said.

© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company


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